In an interesting conversation with Ali Saleem, we get a deeper insight into what really happened to the infamous Begum Nawazish Ali and why she abandoned her career. Saleem opens up about the challenges that came with portraying his loud and spunky alter-ego and all the exciting things we might expect from him in the future!

By Myda Malik

Q1) How did it feel discarding a bolstered ego that was such a big part of your persona as a celebrity? Was it a relief or was there sadness?

No, I wouldn’t say that I completely discarded it, one grows out of stuff and 7, 8 years was a pretty long time to be Begum. Being Begum was great and I will always remember her with great fondness. Begum gave me international recognition and the cover of the New York Times. She gave me unprecedented exposure and fame so I have only good things to say about Begum. But then Begum was also high maintenance and she was taking a toll on me physically, mentally, emotionally and in every other way. So it wasn’t easy being Begum. In that way, it’s a relief: I don’t now have to worry so much about how my nails and my eyebrows look!

Q2) How was it to retire especially considering how hugely popular your alter ego proved to be?

There are multiple reasons for it. Firstly when Begum started, it was 2005 and President Pervez Musharraf was the president of Pakistan. On a political and economic level, things were looking good: people had money, there was prosperity in this country and much better law and order. It was the peak of Musharraf’s time when Pakistanis were really happy. So at the time, Begum made a lot of sense. But now unfortunately things started turning bad since December 2007 after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and then after Lal Masjid happened followed by a string of bad events happening during which Musharraf finally gave away his presidency and his uniform after which we had the PPP come into power. And we all remember that the economic prosperity that was ensuing, that completely halted and a lot of people ended up jobless in Pakistan, people went out of business, and stores had to close down.  And with so much mayoosi (depression), Begum was finding it difficult to keep her vivaciousness and her addaas going because she couldn’t pretend and the point is that Begum was a human being and that she would feel for the country and she could not pretend anymore. So I think begum needed a break from Pakistan

Q3) Tell us about a usual day in the life of Ali Saleem. Was Begum Nawazish your routine or a hobby?

Actually, I have a very good routine especially since the Late, Late Show has started which I’m working very hard on. As I said, there’ve been a lot of meetings and a lot of work has gone into the production of this show. So I’m going to the gym regularly, working very hard on the show, I have a small group of friends, I like going to the cinema, I like eating out. I’d say I have a very healthy routine.

Q4) Tell us about a vision for your new show and whatever details you’d like to include.

The vision I actually shared but I’ll share it again. The vision is simple: it is to project and promote Pakistan’s entertainment industry and to celebrate Pakistani entertainers, to showcase their talent and their glamour, to bring out the best in them and to share the best in them with the audience and the viewers. To bridge this gap between the entertainer and the viewer/public, to make them feel in sync, to help teach people how important it is to celebrate your performers, your entertainers, your cultural ambassadors. The average American will only have great things to say about tom Cruise. An average Indian would have great things to say about Shahrukh Khan but unfortunately an average Pakistani may not have such good things to say about Shaan and Humayun Saeed. Our minds have been corrupted and unfortunately it’s very sad. In Pakistan, it’s almost fashionable to run people down and to pick out their negative qualities and to harpoon them and build on them and to deride them and defame them and say malicious things about them. You see a lot of this kind of thing on the net. I’m sometimes amazed with the kind of venom and negativity and hate for celebrities in the country. Why? Are they jealous? I think so. The point is that we are our celebrities and we need to own them. Everything in Pakistan, everybody in this country has a right to exist, Qandeel Baloch may not be the perfect person in many eyes but she still is a Pakistani and she has every right to exist and make whatever choices she makes for her person. So we need to make people understand that. It’s very easy to call people names and say that they are do number and four number. Logo ko pehle apnay giraybaando mein jhaank lena chahiyay and then comment on others. Every human is a human and everyone has feelings. We must respect every human being and their right to exist and their freedom of expression as well.

 Q5) What are your plans for the future, will we see a guest appearance by any alter ego.

Of course, I consider myself an entertainer and an actor, I’ve done many many different characters, I’ve been doing theatre since 1998 and I started acting 18 years ago which is a very long time. And over this 18 year period, I’ve done many different characters on stage and on television. I love doing that and playing different characters so you’ll be seeing doing all kinds of fun stuff on my show.

I have seven small questions:

Guilty pleasure?

Maybe I shouldn’t talk about it here. I mean, what do I say..umm I really can’t. I think young people will be reading, I really don’t want to talk about it. There are too many guilty pleasures in life.

On your playlist? 

I don’t have a playlist, I depend on other’s playlists.

What is the first thing you notice about the opposite sex?

OMG, these are such difficult questions! I’d say eyes, your eyes are the window to your soul and they say a lot about your personality.

Which celebrity has you star struck?: Shahid Afridi. I’ve met a lot of celebrities in my life but for some odd reason, when I made him for the first time, I was definitely star struck by him. Not that I’m very much into cricket but Shahid Afridi does most definitely have an aura and I feel sad for the fact that the team did not perform that well and that he had to apologise to the entire nation. People need to realize that no one’s a superman in this world. Sometimes you perform and sometimes you can’t, people need to accept wins and losses and have a sportsman’s spirit about.

If you have a super power what would it be?

 I would love to have control over time and to time-travel.

Biggest turn-off?

 Lies. People who are fake and who lie and who pretend to be somebody else.

Tell us about where you have been since Begum Nawazish Ali left us.

Since Begum Nawazish Ali, I have done a project on PTV Home called Miss X. It was a sitcom that ran for 52 weeks. It was written and directed by Sajid Hassan. I was doing a double role in that, playing both Sharyl and Tony, who are sister and brother. It was a lot of fun doing it. Unfortunately PTV Home is not watched much in urban areas and is patronised more by viewers from the rural areas. All of 2015, I was busy shooting a play called Mor Mahal that is going to start airing on Geo in which I play Shola Jaan. 

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